Friday, June 14, 2013

June Daring Cooks' Challenge: Meatballs Around the World

The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is! Shelley from C Mom Cook and Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to try meatballs from around the world and to create our own meatball meal celebrating a culture or cuisine of our own choice.

I encourage you to click on the links above and check out their blogs!

My family LOVES meatballs with their spaghetti.  So, at least once a year, we have made Make-Ahead Meatballs from a recipe submitted to the Freezer Pleasers section of Taste of Home's Quick Cooking, which was submitted by Ruth Andrewson (my magazine states she is from Idaho, but the link above says Washington.)

Note:  For this meal, I broke it down into two days.  Making the meatballs on Day 1 and the spaghetti sauce on Day 2.

We do not have central air conditioning in our home, so our meatball making has all taken place during the cooler months.  The timing of this challenge encouraged me to try something new.  I made some changes to the recipe we have used in the past to add more flavor.  And, I tried cooking some of them on our Traeger.  (It turned out to be quite cool on the day I made these, so I cut my baking time in half by doing a batch in the oven while cooking another batch on the Traeger.)

Make-Ahead Meatballs on the Traeger
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time:  1.5 hours
Yield: roughly 12 dozen meatballs

Equipment required:
2 Large mixing bowls
Measuring tools
Spoon(s) for mixing/shaping, if desired (I used a Pampered Chef small scoop)
Cookie sheet
Parchment paper (optional)
Food processor (optional)
Metal Spatula
Cutting board
Kitchen knife
Paper towels
Freezer bags or Freezer containers
Traeger grill and pellets OR oven

2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 lbs. sausage (I used 1 lb. mild Italian and 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage)
4 eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup grated carrot, optional
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. white pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 cups fine bread crumbs (or 6 cups soft bread crumbs)

Traeger Directions:
1. Make sure you have enough chips in your Traeger!  (I used Hickory.) 
2. With lid open, set Traeger to smoke until hot (about 5 minutes)
3. Set Traeger on High (400 degrees Fahrenheit.)
4.  If using fresh bread crumbs, pulse bread (6-12 slices depending on the size for soft bread crumbs) in a food processor.  I had dried bread cubes on hand from homemade wheat bread, and pulsed them in the food processor until I had 2 cups worth.  Set aside.
5. In large mixing bowl, whip eggs.
6.  Add onion, carrot (if using), salt, Worcestershire sauce, white pepper, and oregano to eggs and mix well.
7.  Mix bread crumbs into egg mixture.  Mix well.
8. In a very large bowl, combine the ground beef and sausage (I alternate adding beef and then sausage to be sure the flavors mixed evenly.)
9. Work the bread mixture into the meat.  I take care mixing this part very, very well.  (No one wants a meatball that is mostly breadcrumbs and eggs.)
10. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper (if using - this makes clean up much easier!)
11. Shape meatballs.  Scoop meat with a small spoon (or Pampered Chef small scoop), roll into ball, and place on cookie sheet.  (I fill the cookie sheet and then continue shaping the balls and placing them into the bowl I used to mix the eggs and breadcrumbs, so they are ready to cook when the first batch is done.)
12. Bake on Traeger for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until no pink remains.  (I cooked all of mine for 15 minutes.  To keep the Traeger hot, I removed the pan from the Traeger and turned the meatballs, then put them back on the grill for another 5 minutes, and repeated the process.)
13. Drain cooked meatballs on a plate lined with paper towels.  Continue cooking remaining meatballs on the parchment lined cookie sheet.
Meatballs cooked on the Traeger
Meatballs baked in the oven.
As you can see, the meatballs cooked on the Traeger browned beautifully.  (For the record, my picky eater thought the meatballs I cooked in the oven tasted too much like my meatloaf, but he loved the ones I grilled on the Traeger!)

Oven Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Follow steps 4 through 11 above.
3. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes, until no pink remains.  (I cooked mine for 15 minutes.  And, I removed them from the oven to turn them, to keep the oven hot, then returned them to the oven for another 5 minutes, and repeated the process.)
4. Drain cooked meatballs on a paper-towel lined plate.

There are so many ways to enjoy meatballs, feel free to substitute these with your favorite recipe.  We enjoyed ours with homemade spaghetti sauce (recipe below) and homemade Rosemary Flax Baguettes from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois. (Out of curiosity, I even baked one loaf on the Traeger!  I think I preferred the rosemary flavor from the oven-baked loaf, but it was fun and tasty anyway!) 
Oops!  I forgot to slice the tops.  They were tasty, though!

To Freeze:
Line a clean cookie sheet with plastic wrap.  Place cooked meatballs this cookie sheet, so they are not touching.  Place in freezer for a couple of hours.  (This keeps the meatballs from freezing together in a large clump.)  Remove from tray and put in freezer bag or freezer container and freeze.  The recipe I adapted this from recommends storing 30 meatballs per bag.  However, my family uses about 16 meatballs per batch of spaghetti, so I freeze about that many per bag.  Meatballs may be frozen up to 3 months.

Homemade Mushroom, Basil and Oregano Spaghetti Sauce
Homemade Mushroom, Basil and Oregano Spaghetti Sauce cooked with fresh tomatoes

This was my first attempt at making spaghetti sauce from scratch.  We always have a lot of tomatoes at the end of summer, and I thought it would be fun (and healthy) to can spaghetti sauce this year.  (I have never canned anything, so this will be new!)  And, before making a huge batch, I wanted to be sure I could make a sauce we liked.

I found this recipe I thought sounded good at, and made a few changes I thought my family might like.  It turned out a little sweet.  Next time, I will cut the sugar in half and add a lot more garlic.  (I already doubled the garlic from the original recipe I found, but 8 small cloves simply was not enough!)  I had no idea when to add mushrooms, so Google became my handy friend.  I found this recipe on Pham Fatale and added my mushrooms the way she added them to her ravioli sauce.

Preparation time: ???  I was SLOW peeling my tomatoes, so this took me quite a while.
Cooking time:  2 hours 5 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

Equipment required:
Large non-reactive pot
Small skillet
Large spoon
Cutting Board
Kitchen Knife
Kitchen Shears (optional - I use them to "chop" my herbs)
Slotted spoon
Large bowl of ice water
Bowl to hold freshly chopped tomatoes
Measuring tools
Immersion blender (or a blender could work)

4 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced (I will add more next time, but my cloves were small.)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 4 tsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)
2 1/2 cups (8 oz) button mushrooms - finely chop 1 1/2 cups mushrooms.  Slice the rest & set aside
1 tsp. salt
4 sprigs parsley
1 Tbsp sugar (I will use less next time)
Meatballs - optional
Favorite pasta, cooked as directed
grated Parmesan cheese - optional (I am eating dairy free, but for those cheese lovers in my house we had this available.)

1.  Prep all ingredients.  To peel the tomatoes, I found great tips at The Shiksa in the Kitchen, and used the Boiling Water Method.  I filled a large pot with water and brought it to a boil.  While it came to a boil, I washed my tomatoes and cut a small "X" onto the bottom of each one.  Next, I boiled 3 tomatoes at a time for 25 seconds.  Using a slotted spoon, I removed the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them in a bowl of ice water (to prevent them from cooking more from the hot water.)  When they were all done, I peeled them - most peeled quite easily, but I was slow at this.  Next, I cut the tomatoes, scraped the seeds out, chopped them, and set aside in a bowl.
2. In a large non-reactive pan, heat the olive oil.
3. Add onion, basil, oregano, garlic and salt.  Saute until onion is almost tender (5 - 8 minutes).
4. Add 1 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms and saute 2 minutes.
5. Add tomatoes, parsley and sugar to the pot.  Heat to a boil.  Reduce and simmer uncovered for 2 hours.
6. While sauce is cooking, add remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil to a skillet.  Heat oil.  Add remaining sliced mushrooms and saute 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.
7. Remove parsley after sauce has simmered 2 hours.
8. Use the immersion blender, being careful not to hit the bottom of the pan.  (Alternatively, you could allow the sauce to cool, scoop batches of it into a blender and blend until desired consistency.  Once blended, return it to the pot to continue cooking.)
9. Add sliced mushrooms and meatballs (if desired).  If using fresh meatballs, heat sauce an additional 5 minutes.  If adding frozen meatballs, heat an additional 10-15 minutes - until meatballs are heated through.
10.  Serve warm sauce over warm pasta.  (And sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.)

I would LOVE to thank Shelly and Ruth for this challenge!  I learned a yummier (is that a word?!) way to make amazing meatballs for my family and was inspired to create spaghetti sauce from scratch.  We had my husband's 95-year-old grandfather over for dinner and  he loved it as much as my family did.

To see more amazing meatball ideas (some are even vegan!) visit The Daring Kitchen or copy this sentence and paste it into your search bar:
The June Daring Cooks’ challenge sure kept us rolling – meatballs, that is!


shelley c. said...

So glad that this gave you an opportunity to try something a little different, and your meatballs look perfect! And I may just have to give that sauce a try - looks delicious! Thanks for cooking with us this month!

Renee said...

Thank you for the delicious challenge! We will be finishing the sauce off with meatball sandwiches today. Yum!

Andy Drouin said...

Great job! Is a Traeger a BBQ or a smoker? either way it sounds like a great way to cook your meatballs if it's hot out.

Renee said...

Our Traeger is a smoker. I set it at "High" which I assume is 400 degrees Fahrenheit, as it follows the 375 degree setting. It was super easy and my picky eater only liked the meatballs we made on the Traeger, so it also improved the flavor.